As a reporter holds a recorder up to senior walk-on Elijah Graves, SUU basketball players surround the two. Players dance, flex, tease and do everything they can to make “EG” laugh.
Graves’ nickname should go beyond his initials. The use of “e.g.” is common in academic writing, meaning “example given,” a phrase that personifies Graves’ example of determination and grit.
That example has made him one of the most popular players on SUU’s basketball team. The crowd buzzes every time he approaches the scorer’s table, and erupts every time he gets the ball.
Before the 2017-2018 season, EG didn’t really have Division I basketball on his radar. He played in high school but didn’t receive any offers to play in college.
He decided to attend SUU to study exercise science and play pick-up whenever his schedule allowed.
Graves regularly headed to the PE Building, where he met and played with members of the Thunderbird basketball team.
The 2017-2018 season was an injury plagued one for head coach Todd Simon’s Thunderbirds and practices ran thin on participants. Simon needed another body for running drills and scrimmages, and the players on the team knew just the hooper for the job.
“We invited him and he came and tried out,” Simon said. “We said ‘Hey, let’s give this guy a test run and see if he can help us out a little bit in practice,’ and he earned his spot through hard work and being a good guy.”
Graves was surprised when the team approached him, but was excited to be a part of a team again.
He showed up every practice and helped create a competitive atmosphere within the team. His teammates admire his toughness, energy and selfless attitude.
“He produces everything,” SUU center Andre Adams said. “He is a great man. He brings energy and he’s the heart and soul of this team.”
Graves eventually traveled with the team, and made an appearance at Oregon State. He played three minutes and banked home a layup, much to the approval of his teammates.
Graves continued to contribute in practice and appeared in three other games that season, including an appearance in his hometown of Las Vegas against UNLV.
At the end of the season, Graves had played only 13 minutes, but was one of the most important players on the team because of his energy and passion for the game.
He was invited to return to the squad for the 2018-2019 season.
“He’s a tireless worker, shows up everyday and gives it everything he has,” Simon continued. “He has a tremendous attitude and pushes the guys ahead of him. The guys are really fond of him. No one’s more popular than EG. He’s a phenomenal man.”
Graves personifies Simon’s recruiting mantra, “recruit people, not players”. EG is not the most skilled or athletic player on the team, but he loves playing basketball and contributes to the team’s success any way he can.
“Man, I love being here and being with my brothers,” Graves said. “I mean it’s a good community here. We’re trying to change the culture, and I just want to be part of the program and help change history here at SUU.”
Graves is set to graduate after this basketball season with a degree in secondary education and has aspirations to earn a master’s degree and one day become an Athletic Director.
“It’s been a great opportunity. I’m just really thankful to be a part of all this,” Graves said.
Southern Utah is just as grateful for his example of diligence and determination
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: SUU Athletics Strategic Communication